What God taught me about anxiety and control
... and how I found peace with the help of Thomas Merton, Blessed John Henry Newman and St. John Paul II
Let me tell you something that, too often, I forget.
God is here and he is active.
I mean very active.
But, honestly, I have a problem completely understanding and accepting that.
Let me explain.
You see, I want control. When I was a boy, two major events upended my world. My parents got divorced and we moved to a new city – at the same time. It was a time of great anxiety because of great uncertainty. Looking back, I am sure I had a few panic attacks and a constant level of day-to-day worry. In coping with my struggles, my father taught me how to set goals. The key, I was told, is to craft a clear vision of who you want to be and what you want to do, then work hard, sacrifice and stay faithful. And it worked. It was intoxicating to set one goal, achieve it and then move on to another. My pride was massaged. I loved the approval from others. And it gave me control.
I am no longer a boy, but that boy lives inside of me (and as one sage noted, “The child is father to the man”). And as I have grown older, I have come to realize that while my vision has matured and my goals have changed, I frankly want even more control. And yet I have less of it.
I now realize that things happen to us that are beyond our control.
We age. We make mistakes. We can’t always solve our own problems or those of our loved ones simply by working harder. We can’t control the world we live in or even our own neighborhood.
And this is unnerving.
For someone who crawled out of childhood anxiety by simply scrawling lists of goals on a cheap bank calendar book and working tenaciously to achieve them, this loss of control can be disillusioning, if not frankly frightening.
But this is where I have started to learn about faith.
I mean true faith.
If I believe in God — I mean truly believe that God is here now, active and loving me as I am, but wanting me to be something wonderful in his eyes — then I need to trust him. I need to let go of all my rigid designs.
I need to relinquish control.
But that seems impossibly hard. Risky. Dangerous. It is a day-by-day process of believing that God is who he says he is. And that I can trust him.
And while I have struggled with this raw reality that affects my very security, the very core of who I am on a moment to moment basis, I have been reassured that others far greater than me have struggled with it too.
Thomas Merton’s great prayer has helped me,
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Blessed John Henry Newman insight has guided me,
“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next…Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”
And St. John Paul II has encouraged me,
“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
And to simply drive the point home, these words by these great men were not arrived at by my own efforts. I believe they were placed before me by the unseen hand of the Holy Spirit.
In the midst of life’s uncertainty, we are not called to control. We are called to have faith. If we believe in God – truly believe he is who he says he is and will do what he promises – then we are called to let go of our fears and fall into the arms of Christ. We are called to revel in the love we were born into, the joy found in life’s mysteries, and the peace we will ultimately find in our future heavenly home.
I don’t have complete control. And that is okay.
God is here and he is active.
And that gives me great peace.